Sir Kim Darroch resigns: the consequences of the ambassador leaks row

Boris Johnson under fire for failing to rebuke Donald Trump over attack on British envoy

Sir Kim Darroch
Sir Kim Darroch speaking at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C.
(Image credit: Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

Sir Kim Darroch has resigned as the UK’s ambassador to the US following a row over leaked diplomatic cables that revealed he had called the Donald Trump administration “clumsy and inept”.

Darroch had been due to remain in the posting until the end of the year, but in a letter to Sir Simon McDonald, permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, he said that the speculation surrounding his position made it “impossible” to carry out his role.

McDonald responded that he accepted the resignation “with deep personal regret”.

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“Over the last few difficult days you have behaved as you have always behaved over a long and distinguished career, with dignity, professionalism and class,” the department’s top civil servant wrote to Darroch. “The prime minister, foreign secretary and whole of the public service have stood with you. You were the target of a malicious leak; you were simply doing your job.”

But at a meeting of the Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee this afternoon, McDonald admitted that “there must be consequences” for the US-UK relationship.

He said it was too early to tell what these effects might be, but noted that the last time a British envoy was forced out after angering a US president was in 1856, when UK ambassador Sir John Crampton was accused by Franklin Pierce of recruiting Americans to fight on the British side in the Crimean War.

In the latest furore, President Trump refused to work with Darroch following the publication of the confidential emails, in which the envoy criticised the president as “insecure”.

Trump subsequently tweeted: “I do not know the Ambassador, but he is not liked or well thought of within the U.S. We will no longer deal with him.”

No. 10 described the leak as “unfortunate” but insisted that the UK and US continue to share a “special and enduring” relationship.

However, Trump launched a personal attack on Darroch, calling him “wacky”, “very stupid” and “pompous”, and also hit out at Theresa May’s handling of Brexit.

Following Darroch’s resignation, Sir Christopher Meyer, a former British ambassador to the US, said it was a “bad day for British diplomacy and a bad day for British American relations”.

He described Darroch as a “good man” brought down by a “disgraceful leak”, reports The Daily Telegraph.

Meanwhile, Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, “took a direct stab” at Tory leadership front-runner Boris Johnson, who during an ITV debate on Wednesday failed to rebuke Trump for his attacks on Darroch and May.

“Leaders stand up for their men. They encourage them to try and defend them when they fail,” wrote Tugendhat on Twitter.

According to the Financial Times, Darroch told colleagues that after watching the debate “he felt that Mr Johnson would sack him if, as expected, he becomes prime minister later this month”.

Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan said Johnson had “thrown our ambassador under a bus”.

ITV’s Robert Peston suggests there was a long-term strategy behind Johnson’s reticence.

“This summer Johnson wants Trump to publicly celebrate his very special relationship with a Johnsonian Britain - in the twin hopes that this expedites a post-Brexit trade deal with the US and (perhaps more important) it persuades EU leaders to belatedly agree an acceptable Brexit compromise, to stay on the right side of a UK that may seem stronger as Trump’s acolyte,” Peston writes.

Nick Bryant, North America correspondent for the BBC, warns that Trump “could well wake up this morning thinking he has the power to veto who the UK has as its ambassador”.

The US-UK relationship has never been one of equals but “right now it seems particular lopsided”, Bryant continues.

“The US knows that Britain is fairly isolated right now internationally and needs the US more than ever. Donald Trump has wielded that power mercilessly in this row.”

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